"The fact that, for the first time, the U.S. has what is essentially a national curriculum, equivalent in quality to what is found in the highest scoring countries in the world, means that the focus of leadership can finally shift from arguing about what math to teach, to how best to teach the agreed upon content to all students."

- Steven Leinwand

And We Have the Audacity to Blame Teachers…

Article posted on Monday, December, 1st, 2014 at 3:23 am

It’s been a great fall of 2014 – many states, many schools and many classrooms. It’s been full of hope and optimism as I see many positive aspects of the Common Core era, more and better use of the incredible array of new on-line resources (see: http://steveleinwand.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Great-On-line-Math-Resources-June-2016.docx), and powerful forays into effective collaboration and coaching.

But then there was a discouraging return to reality.  I’m in a majority minority suburban school district with more than 12,000 students working with middle and high school teachers about strengthening the teaching and learning of algebra, and it’s the typical one-day one-shot PD.  I returned to the airport consumed by the question of HOW DO WE HAVE THE AUDACITY TO BLAME TEACHERS when:

  • there are 42 minute class periods that no teacher of mathematics believes is adequate to implement the vision of the Common Core;
  • because of budget cuts, there is no department head or designated leader at the school level and thus no one is charged with coordinating follow-up;
  • there are incessant live (“I need to see Hector”) and intercom interruptions (“please send Tricia to the office”) that show no respect for the sanctity and fragility of a lesson and undermine even the best of planning;
  • one day each week one-third of the algebra class is pulled out for orchestra (because “orchestra is much more important than math”);
  • there is no scheduled time for teachers to meet and collaborate beyond the once each month department meeting that never focuses on teaching and learning;
  • there are no collaborative structures and essentially no teacher has observed a colleague or co-planned or compared notes or thoughts, resulting in debilitating professional isolation;
  • there is one K-12 district math coordinator and no coaches or coaching opportunities;
  • the most recent textbook adoption was 2007;
  • these are not enough graphing calculators and many of the classrooms do not have interactive whiteboards; and
  • eight days are wasted each year for quarterly interim/benchmark assessments imposed from the central office with no teacher input and slim alignment with the curriculum.

Unlike the support, growth and professionalism I find in many schools and districts, this day was a sobering reminder about how severely some teachers have been set up to fail, how inappropriate it is to blame these hogtied professionals, and how screwed so many students are.  It’s an all too common reality that unacceptably poor levels of student achievement derive from abysmal school and district structures and capacity that have nothing to do with teacher capacity  and everything to do with community, district and school leadership that make high levels of teaching and learning essentially impossible.  A little less blaming students and teachers and a lot more attention to support, collaboration, coaching and accountability can go a long way.

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